Great Gift Ideas For 3D Artists

Tools and toys for 3D modelers & animators

Digital artists might not need an endless supply of paint and canvases like painters, or dozens of different rake tools like clay sculptors, but there are still a lot of things required (or desired) to keep creative juices flowing. Think 3D modeling & animation, visual effects, and game development. Whether you're shopping for the holidays, a birthday, a graduation gift, or just for the heck of it, here are great gift ideas for the 3D artist in your life. 

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A 3D Print

Gift at computer
DusanManic/Getty Images

I mentioned in another article that a 3D print from one of my models was one of the best gifts I've ever received. 3D printing is quickly becoming affordable, and if you're savvy enough to have access to the recipient's 3D files, there are multiple on-demand services that can make prints for you.

Shapeways and Sculpteo are probably the two most popular print services out there, and both make it really easy to get high-quality 3D prints in a range of materials that includes plastics, ceramics, and even metal.

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A Training Subscription

If there's one thing that all 3D artists have in common, it's that we're always looking for ways to improve our art (and for most of us, there's a lot we still need to learn). Especially if you know someone who's just getting into 3D, a training subscription at a site like Digital Tutors or 3DMotive can be a very, very valuable gift that won't go unappreciated.

Different sites are better for different disciplines. I recommend:

  • Eat3D and 3DMotive (very reasonably priced) for artists interested in game development, and 3ds Max users.
  • Gnomon & FXPHD for visual effects and modeling, although Gnomon pretty much covers the whole CG spectrum. The price tag on both of these is pretty high, but Gnomon definitely has a year's worth of good material, and FXPHD actually uses a workshop setting that includes some mentoring.
  • ZBrush Workshops for—yep, you guessed it—digital sculpting in ZBrush. Ryan Kingslien is a really good instructor.
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A Wacom Tablet

If the gift recipient has been doing digital art/CG for awhile this is something they probably already have, but if not they need one ASAP!

There are only two tools more important to a 3D artist than a tablet—their computer and their software package. Although it's technically possible to paint decent textures and sculpt in ZBrush without a tablet, you'd have to be crazy to want to do it.

Wacom tablets start around $50 and run into the thousands, but even their lowest end hardware is rock solid. The Intuos series is a favorite among aspiring pros, but a cheaper Bamboo will certainly get the job done.

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3D Total Textures Pack

It's really nice to have your own self-made texture library – 3D artists should always carry a camera, and using personal photos means your artist will have unique textures.

But there will inevitably be a time when there just isn't anything in the personal file that satisfies the needs of a particular project. The 3D Total Textures package is one of the most comprehensive texture libraries I've come across, and it really includes all the necessities for producing great renders.

The package is broken down into 19 different volumes each with a different theme, including (tiling) architectural materials, hand painted cartoon textures, trees & plants, and even a "destroyed & damaged" pack containing grunge decals to help you rough up your latest hard surface model. Many of the tiling textures include normal and specular maps, which is an enormous perk for anyone interested in game development.

Volumes can be purchased individually, or in larger discounted bundles

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Books: Digital Art Masters, Expose, Training Books, etc.

Expose and Digital Art Masters are the ultimate coffee table books for someone interested in 3D art. The pages are filled with hundreds of gorgeous 3d images, many accompanied by detailed write-ups from the talented artists that created them. Expose is currently on its ninth iteration, and Digital Art Masters released Vol. 6 earlier this year. Both are published annually.

Of course, artists are always trying to improve, so if you're looking to buy something a bit more instructional, check out these two "essential reading" lists we recently published:

7 Great books for 3D Modelers

10 Books on Computer Animation

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A Magazine Subscription: 3D Artist, 3D World, 3D Creative

With the recent explosion of the tablet & e-reader market, you'd be forgiven for thinking that print magazines are going the way of the dodo, but there are still a handful of 3D magazines surviving and thriving.

3D Artist and 3DWorld are the best of the bunch, and both contain a nice mix of tutorials, interviews, production features, and artist spotlights that you can't really find anywhere else. I personally prefer 3DArtist, but they're both publications worth reading.

If you'd rather keep things digital, 3D Creative is a fantastic e-zine distributed by 3DTotal Publishing, who have been consistently releasing top-quality material for years.

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An Anatomy Maquette

I don't have an anatomy maquette, but I really wish I did.

Having a book lying around like George Bridgeman's Drawing From Life is nice, but having an ecorche model that references all the major anatomical forms of the body would be heaven.

High quality maquettes from a source like Anatomy Tools are pricey, but they can definitely be worth the investment if the artist is doing a lot of detailed character work. Somewhat cheaper, but no less valuable, is the planes of the head mannequin, which can really help demystify facial anatomy for beginners.

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If your 3D artist friend is a modeler, a couple slabs of Sculpey (polymer clay) can be a really great gift.

As a digital artist, it can be very refreshing to dabble in traditional media from time to time, and of the widely available clays, Sculpey is the most suitable for maquette building and concept sculpting because it takes months to dry and holds details incredibly well.

Traditional sculpture can be a wonderful teaching tool for 3D artists who are trying to learn anatomy because it forces a more calculated and analytical approach than ZBrush, where incremental saves and the undo function provide a safety net.

Sculpey is available at any craft store – a lot of sculptors find a 2:1 ratio between Super Sculpey to Sculpey Premo produces an ideal firmness and color.

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A RAM Upgrade

Didn't think of this one did you? Yeah, it's possible to make CG on a computer with relatively low specs, but if you want your 3D application to run smoothly and efficiently you're going to want a whole bunch of RAM.

This would be very difficult to pull off as a surprise gift, but if you're not into surprises, ask your 3D making buddy/relative if the RAM is maxed out on their workstation. If they're a pro, they're probably already running high-end specs (by necessity), but budget wary students and amateurs can almost always use a few more gigabytes of memory.

Depending on the situation, a RAM upgrade can range pretty drastically in price from $50 well into the hundreds. Like I said, you should definitely consult the artist if you're thinking about going this route.

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High-end 3D software suites run into the thousands, so unless you're a very generous gift giver you probably won't be dolling out Maya licenses.

But having said that, there are a lot of smaller (cheaper) pieces of software and plug-ins that can be very useful to a 3D artist. It can't hurt to ask the recipient if there's any software they need, but here are a few to consider in the meantime: